The year 2018 is just around the corner. There are a lot of posts about food trends, marketing trends, and tech trends hitting the internet that will directly impact the restaurant industry. Your head is probably spinning with the trends, menu changes, and the thought of “where do you even begin?” to stay competitive in the market.
Let’s just put those trends on the shelf for a moment and put a focus on our customers. They are the ones who will spend money in our restaurant and it’s important to understand their expectations going into the new year.
Here are the 4 ways that your customers will expect more from you as we move into 2018:
1. Convenience Accessible
One of the greatest things about technology is that things are always innovating. The customer innovates along with the technology and a big service in the restaurant industry is delivery. We have lived in a world of instant gratification for a long time and it’s only getting to be more of that. This is why convenience plays a huge role into your restaurant operations.
There are third party delivery services that charge a large percentage (between 22 percent and 35 percent of your sales) and restaurant owners feel trapped because that eats up their profit margins by almost all of it. It’s very difficult to make money because these companies sell convenience to the restaurant because that’s what the customer wants.
If your restaurant cannot afford to take on these additional fees for the sake of brand awareness or convenience, then there are other ( and often better) options. I’ll use one as an example.
ChowNow is an amazing competitor in the delivery space that allows the restaurant to remain convenient for their customers while not eating away at the bottom line. They charge a monthly service fee instead of a percentage so regardless if you get orders, you have to pay their fee. But it allows you to control your costs while serving the customers who want convenience.
They even customize your website for an additional fee so you have a highly optimized, mobile ordering site for your customers. Of course, there are many options that cause the price to increase but if you’d rather control your costs with paying upfront, ChowNow is a great alternative to the delivery market.
Another convenience factor is in fast food restaurants - the addition of digital kiosks that will elevate the experience for any customer that’s in a hurry. I went to a Wendy’s because their Twitter account was roasting their customers and I enjoyed it so much that I stopped by one I was driving by.
They had a line of people and one cashier who didn’t look enthusiastic at all. I walked right up to the kiosk, placed my order in less than 60 seconds, and I had my food a few minutes after that. I was in a hurry but needed a quick bite so it was convenient for me to use, navigate, get my food, and get out.
Now, smaller chains may not be able to afford these types of kiosks but having a form of convenience in your restaurant, whether it’s the kiosk or the delivery option, is going to continue to be expected moving into 2018.
2. Knowledgeable Staff
The next thing that the customers are going to expect are knowledgeable staff that know everything there is to know about your menu. It sounds a little extreme but with menu prices increasing due to the minimum wage increases, if the customer is paying more for their food, they expect the staff to know exactly what’s in everything.
Even if your restaurant doesn’t specialize with special dietary restrictions, customers are getting more and more conscious about what they put into their body. You do not have to be a full-fledged vegan or gluten-free restaurant but make sure that it’s clearly stated on the menu and your staff knows the difference between the two.
Now, before you chuckle, I’ve seen it happen more often than I should in Los Angeles.
Your staff should know the menu like the back of their hand. Not just the food menu but also the cocktail menu and which drink pairs the best with certain items. If I’m getting a fish dish, the server better know which wine pairs best and will create a one of a kind experience that will turn me into a raving fan.
The expectation’s getting higher and higher with every year that passes. This is because it’s getting more and more expensive to eat out but more and more people don’t even know how to cook at home. Restaurant sales have surpassed grocery store sales in 2017 and the gap is increasing more. Millennials are expecting a full-service experience and demand the best. It’s their money, after all.
3. Personalization for Every Customer
When it comes to the experience in your restaurant, you cannot come at it from a one-size fits all approach. Customers are wanting a personalized experience, which can be difficult when it comes to large parties. But the customers who dine in are looking for personalization.
If you pay attention to what larger companies are focusing on, it’s a key indicator of what the customer is wanting but the nice thing with independent restaurants is that we can move a lot faster than the large companies can. We can make decisions today that will impact our business tomorrow instead of bringing a whole board together and voting on the change, then planning the strategy and implementing.
We have the upper hand when it comes to moving quickly so this is one that you definitely want to be paying attention to moving into 2018.
Look at Disney World. With the ticket, they are sending people magic wristbands that you need to keep on for your stay throughout your trip. It allows you to unlock your hotel room, use like a credit card (you upload your card ahead of time to make purchases), and even tracks you throughout your stay in all of the parks.
It’s to create the illusion of magic for the younger kids but as adults, it ends up being this amazing personalized experience. It gets so personal, it even knows when you are leaving. When you are on the tram and heading back to the car, it will thank you for your stay and tell you to return again. It will call you by your name and give you a rundown of your whole vacation and how to book in the future (peer pressure from the kids).
What does this mean for your restaurant? It means that people want that personalization. Servers should be going to the table and making decisions based on the feeling of the table. Are they business people in a meeting? Don’t keep bothering them, keep their drinks filled, and make recommendations based on what they are thinking. If it’s a family, make sure to focus more on family friendly meals & drinks (even mocktails). If it’s a couple, how can you make their visit a little more romantic if they are there for a special anniversary?
At the end of the day, personalization is what’s going to make your restaurant stand out. Train your staff on how to read the table and the guest and make decisions that will not only line their pocket with more tips, but increase the restaurant sales because they are enjoying their experience at your restaurant.
4. Heightened Engagement on Social Media
In the world of social media, customers are wanting to engage with your business on the platforms that they use. If they are on Facebook, they want to be able to message you on Facebook and get a response back. If they are on Instagram, they may try to direct message you on Instagram. It’s a way for them to keep in touch with your restaurant outside of actually being inside of the restaurant.
I direct messaged a restaurant after seeing some of their Instagram stories and just wanted to let them know how amazing their staff was while I was in their restaurant. It was responded six hours later but it was a human. It wasn’t a bot, it was a genuine person who wanted to thank me for giving props to the specific team.
Was I expecting a response back? No. But the fact that they took the time to message me back even though they had multiple locations made me love that company even more.
Remember if you post something on Instagram or even Facebook and somebody messages you with a question about it or your restaurant— it’s important to respond. Nothing is more frustrating to a customer than having their messages go ignored. They’ll think that you don’t care about them or have the time to send a quick message responding to the question.
It’s all about meeting them where they hang out and as long as you can continue to remain at the top of their mind, you’ll be able to keep them loyal to your business.
Expectations moving into 2018 for the customers are high. They have high standards so it’s important, as restaurant owners, to take care of your employees so they will be able to turn your restaurant into the experience the customer desires.
By Andrew Carlson, Industry Expert